Recap: Nuggets fight past Heat in ultimate team effort

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in franchise history, the Denver Nuggets have reached 40 wins before the All-Star break.

The Nuggets notched their 40th victory of the season Monday night with a satisfying 112-108 road win over the Miami Heat.

On a night where Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray once again sat out with injuries, the Nuggets logged a whopping 34 team assists. Bolstered by a Nikola Jokic masterclass, Denver’s ball movement didn’t miss a beat all night as they moved to 14-14 on the road.

The Denver offense has lived up to its billing in recent weeks. Over their last ten games, the Nuggets are averaging 30.5 dimes per contest.

In a battle of polar opposites, the matchup of Denver’s elite offense and Miami’s stingy defense made for a fascinating contest.

First Quarter

The Nuggets got off to a shaky start as Miami dominated the paint early on. In fact, the Heat shot 9-of-15 from 2-point range in the first period.

Jimmy Butler controlled the flow of the game early on as the two-way superstar littered the stat sheet with six points, five assists, and four rebounds. Bam Adebayo caught fire early with nine points of his own, but the Joker would end up dominating the big man as the game moved along.

After one quarter, Denver trailed 36-27 after tallying just two free throw attempts in a sluggish opening frame.

However, newly acquired center Thomas Bryant served as a bright spot in his Nuggets debut, providing some much-needed energy in the closing minutes of the quarter with four quick points. Bryant ended up scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 14 minutes of action.

Second Quarter

The Denver bench began the next quarter with a bang, chipping away at the deficit with some huge plays from various role players. The Nuggets regained the lead about four minutes into the period when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drained a tough three in the face of Cody Martin.

From there, the Nuggets got hotter and hotter. The offense scorched all the way until the end of the first half as Denver shot a mind-blowing 78 percent from the field in the second quarter.

Jokic led the way with a perfect 5-for-5 shooting display, ultimately ripping off eight straight made field goals from halfway through the second frame to the middle of the third.

After nailing two 3-pointers in the first, Michael Porter Jr. sank two more triples to finish the first half with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from downtown.

The Nuggets finished the opening half with a narrow 65-62 lead.

Third Quarter

Denver earned some breathing room in the third quarter as Michael Malone’s defense turned it up a notch. Jokic, in particular, dominated proceedings in his matchup with Adebayo.

The Big Honey mustered 10 more points on 80 percent shooting, torching Miami’s lauded defensive anchor on the offensive end while holding Adebayo to a miserable zero points on two shot attempts.

After a relatively quiet first half, Bruce Brown settled in with an impressive 3-for-3 third-quarter effort from the field. Brown went on to finish the night with 16 points on 50 percent shooting.

The Nuggets held the Heat to 38 percent shooting in the period and shut down the home team’s perimeter attack. The Heat missed all eight of their 3-point tries, and the Nuggets extended their lead to six by the start of the fourth.

Thankfully for Miami, Butler’s impactful play kept the crowd favorites afloat.

Fourth Quarter

Denver’s second unit opened the final quarter with sloppy play, giving the Heat an opening with a slew of careless turnovers.

In typical Heat fashion, Miami took advantage and capitalized on some fastbreak opportunities. They ultimately ended the night with eight more fastbreak points than Denver.

With crunch time in sight, rookie Christian Braun helped to weather the storm. On back-to-back offensive possessions, Braun soared in for a putback layup over two Heat jerseys then stuck a midrange jumper to hand the Nuggets a 101-96 lead.

Although the back-to-back MVP continued his amazing campaign with another dominant performance, Denver’s all-around contributions stood out more than anything.

Seven different Nuggets scored double-digit points, while the team also made countless defensive plays in the contest’s closing minutes.

MPJ continued to show signs of serious improvement as a defender, coming up with a late steal and a clutch block on Butler. Filling in as a starter for Gordon, Vlatko Cancar also provided some extra energy on defense with a steal and a block of his own.

With 16 seconds to go, the Heat missed out on a chance to cut the lead to two when Butler fumbled a wide-open shot at the rim. Denver closed the door shortly after.

In their hard-fought victory, Denver played incredible team defense and stayed composed in a back-and-forth contest that saw 15 total lead changes. Denver’s role players stepped up across the board, earning a second consecutive road win without Gordon and Murray.

Jokic ended the night with 27 points, 12 boards, and 8 dimes on 12-of-14 shooting. He committed zero turnovers as well.

The reigning MVP and his 40-win squad will play their last game before the All-Star break this Wednesday at home against the Mavericks.